By Sherri Kolade

This post was originally published on Michigan Chronicle.

He’s a father, husband, artist, self-proclaimed smiler, and student of life.   

I am a Black artist from Detroit, I’m an artist from Detroit – I focus on spreading (joy).

Philip Simpson, “Chief Smile Guy” at The Smile Brand

Lifetime Detroiter Philip Simpson is “Chief Smile Guy” at The Smile Brand, is an optimistic lifestyle brand dedicated to the “life of smiling and spreading joy,” which he’s a natural at. 

“I am a Black artist from Detroit, I’m an artist from Detroit – I focus on spreading (joy),” Simpson said adding that he wants his energy to match his artwork and he encourages others to live inspired. “I’m so happy the community got my back. It’s unreal how many people (are) for me. I always try to treat everyone with kindness and it comes back to me tenfold. … I always said my currency, my true currency, is that my name is good.”  

The SMILE Brand, which is dedicated to the life of smiling and spreading joy, features products like original smile apparel, prints, accessories, and more.   

Simpson (a muralist focused on making the city better) is well-known for his smiley faces gracing buildings throughout the city and personalized paintings of people, along with exhibits, installations, and more.  

Described as the chief smile guy at The Smile Brand is a former art director/CEO at The Baltimore Gallery, has his work cut out for him in making others cheer up.   

According to nationwide statistics, a number of Americans are not finding things to smile about, which is evident in the rising statistics of people experiencing depression. From March 30 to April 11, 2022, around 22 percent of U.S. adults reported symptoms of depressive disorder in that week alone.  

Also, according to a report from the CDC, young people are not exempt from these challenges. From March to October of 2020 mental health-related emergency room visits increased 24 percent for children aged 5 to 11 and 31 percent for children 12 to 17 when compared to the same time in 2019.     

I wanna talk about why it’s important to be kind and to say ‘Hello.’

Philip Simpson, “Chief Smile Guy” at The Smile Brand

Simpson can relate. His own brand came to be after facing depression-related issues after his menswear clothing store, Freshman Clothing, (which opened in 2009) in downtown Detroit closed.  

“Like most of us in life, I had to find my own voice at the end. I had to find my place because I had got very depressed, ’cause my store closed,” the Grandmont Rosedale resident said, adding that people can move past their failures and grow from there. “You gotta learn from it.”  

Once he moved forward, Simpson started the Smile brand in 2012, which he described as life-changing.  

“It was a way for me to continue to meet new people, build new bridges … and new relationships and find ways to give back,” he said.  

From 2012 onward, Simpson said he has built his brand around not only encouraging others to smile more but cultivating a good attitude for kindness’ sake.  

“I wanna talk about why it’s important to be kind and to say ‘Hello.’”  

From saying “hello” to strangers to forging partnerships with local businesses, the proud Detroit School of Arts graduate said that a lack of a college degree (he studied at University of Michigan) never stopped him professionally and why would it?   

Simpson’s wholesome works of art – and his infectious bubbly persona – keep this “kid from the Eastside” going into rooms that some might feel he (or his art) has no business going into.   

“I belong in these places. … I’m not shy to walk into a room and say, ‘Hey, my name is Phillip,” he said adding that now if a painting doesn’t sell he just keeps moving and reinventing his own multi-colored wheel of progress. “There is much going on professionally … and I believe in myself, so I’m in a place where my artwork is what I wanted to be.”  

Nowadays, Simpson is working with local brands through collaborations where they use his artwork and more.  

Dante Williams, owner of Cutz Lounge The Grooming Shop in Detroit, has one of Simpson’s works inside his shop.  

“For me, it really brought my building to life,” he said of the artwork, adding that partnering with other businesses (Black-owned or not) is just common sense.  

“(It) creates a synergy that community can look at and see that we are working together,” Williams said. “Oftentimes we are in competition, or our goods or services are expensive because we are small but when we are able to collaborate it helps to create more of a unified business sector.”   

Simpson said that whether he is creating Afro-centric faces, representing his new Smile Man mascot (which he plans to expand), or painting large public art murals, he plans to keep going until the wheels fall off.  

“I wanna put up a million smiles out here, man. That’s why I’m here on this Earth, man,” he said adding that he’s not at this alone. “(There are) a lot of great artists in Detroit right now setting examples to show these young children, Black kids.”  

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